Situation Still Tense After Saddam's Capture, 01/14/04
President George Bush will have to defend recent trade and security policies at the Summit of the Americas this week, a two-day meeting of 34 North and Latin American leaders hosted by Mexican President Vicente Fox.
For President Bush, the meeting is a chance to rekindle his relationship with some Latin American leaders, who feel the United States has neglected their concerns for more pressing matters in Iraq and the Middle East.
Controversial items that are on the meeting agenda include a free trade agreement that would open trade in the region between Alaska and Argentina, and a plan to oust corrupt countries from the Organization of the Americas, a group of 35 Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Leaders will also discuss terrorism and security and a bill proposed by President Bush last week to offer temporary work permits to the millions of illegal immigrants working in the United States.
While in Mexico, President Bush will have to overcome growing resentment by many Latin Americans. When he took office in 2000, he promised to improve relations with Mexico and focus on Latin American issues. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the war in Iraq and the "road map" to Middle East peace have since put Latin America on the back burner.
And though he has patched things up with President Fox by proposing the immigration bill, which could affect millions of Mexicans, he has angered Argentina by failing to step in during its recent economic crisis. Venezuela is also not pleased with the United States -- its government has accused the United States of having ties to a coup attempt that threatened to overthrow its left-leaning president, Hugo Chavez, in 2002.
Some feel that President Bush is focusing on Latin American issues now to gain votes for his November 2004 reelection campaign.
"The administration has long had an interest in engaging Latin America, but 9/11 got in the way," Miguel Diaz of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told the Reuters news service. "I think they are getting back into it, but for self-serving reasons: the elections and the Hispanic vote."
Members of the Bush administration have denied such motivation.
"I think there's a perception or a line of argument out there that somehow after 9/11 the United States lost interest in anything that didn't relate to terrorism and 9/11," said national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. "It's just not true."
President Bush is expected to meet with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday.
Da Silva is expected to bring up a new U.S. program called U.S. VISIT, which requires visitors to the United States from most foreign countries to be fingerprinted and photographed upon entering the country. While visitors from 25 countries - mostly in Europe - are exempt from the requirement, Brazil is not.
The measure angered President Da Silva, who called it a threat to human rights and a violation of human dignity and promptly countered by subjecting U.S. citizens to the same treatment at Brazilian borders.
President Bush is also expected to meet with new Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. Canada and the United States have been at odds over Canada's decision not to send troops to Iraq.
This will be the fourth Summit of the Americas since 1994. Every nation in the hemisphere takes part, except Cuba.
By Kristina Nwazota, Online NewsHour
© 2004 MacNeil/Lehrer Productions